Thursday, 31 July 2014

Meknes to Fes via Volubilis - travel diary

Day 3: Drive from Meknes to Fes via Volubilis

The morning was a bit of a disappointment. We pulled alongside a road and took a picture of the arch gateway which were told is built from plaster, mud, straw and human bones. The reason why this ancient (300 yr old) gate is still intact is because it is decorated with an inscription from the Qur'an. 
The ancient Gate

In spite of Ismail’s seemingly unquenchable blood lust and far from benevolent treatment of his subjects (including English, Irish, French and Spanish slaves), the sultan still seems to be held in high regard and his tomb is something of a place of reverence even today amongst a people who still see his rule as Morocco’s ‘Golden Age’. 

Ismail's palace complex built by white slaves
headed over to the granaries which are 300 yrs old. They were big, empty and cold. Full stop. Next I visited the mausoleum which was very beautifully decorated with tiles on the floor and Walls and painted cedar ceilings. The tiles were saffron yellow, green, black and white. The whole place was freezing due to most of it being outside and of course the tiles also contributed to the coldness. I also visited where Ismail used to keep his horses which were back then botanical gardens. It is now a 15 hole golf course.

Sculpture of A traditional water carrier

Have only been exposed to snippets of sun so far on the trip, but then again it is January. Starting to wonder if I will benefit from forking out a small mortgage for my factor 30 sunscreen and 50% Deet insect repellent.

Moroccan Market

I walked through the Bab el Khamis Gate to the city’s spectacular centrepiece, the Bab Mansour, en route to the Place el Hedim and the city’s Medina. I watched chickens bought from one store and butchered at a store a couple of stores away. There were bunnies (alive) sitting in a green tray, a hedghog in a crate and an iguana. Plenty of goats and cows heads were available as was a large quantity of tripe slowly making it's way off the shelf and into the floor. The displays of olives seemed unreal - so perfectly stacked. Only men worked in the shops. I treated myself to a mint tea and an vanilla slice looking cake which was overly sweet. Sugar rush!!I loved the Market. Leather slippers were in abundance in the market. I wish I  had had more time to experience the Morocco of today rather than a 300 yr old empty granary.

I then visited a workshop where they made beautiful black metal vases, animals etc which were decorated with silver wire hammered into the metal, fired, washed with lemon and then olive oil. It's such a shame that they haven't figured that we can't carry those sized objects with us and could have focused on obviously their key works with more manageable pieces for sale as I would have happily bought a small box for my jewellery if one had been small enough. 

Leather Moroccan Slippers

Volubilis - a Roman city
Next stop: the nearby ancient site of Volubilis – the capital of the Roman province of Mauritania Tingitana. The detailed mosaics here are still intact and the site gives a good idea of the layout of provincial settlements. Our tour guides knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology was enough and presented in an entertaining fashion. He kept us engaged. The site was larger than I had initially expected. When you have been to Pompeii and Herculaneum this site really didn't compare but was still interesting and within beautiful surroundings. I had THE best time in Volubilis. It's not looked after as well as Pompeii or Herculaneum but there was plenty to see (if you know what you're looking at).

Volubilis, ancient Roman city

Fes - Morocco's cultural capital
I then travelled north east via Nzala des Beni Ammar to the country’s cultural capital. Fes is most probably the oldest of the imperial cities, its fascinating history is rich with wars, murders and political intrigue. It has played an important part in Moroccan trade, culture, religion and politics as well as being the seat of learning for science. The old and new towns are adjacent but are totally separate entities and the panoramic views of Fes El Bali (the old city), seen from the North Borj (tower), are very useful to help you orientate yourself for when you are in the narrow alleyways.The view from the bus was yet more goats and shacks. The landscape is very fertile and vast. The roads were flat and most were in decent condition. 

An evening spectacle in fes
After another cold shower I joined a group for "an evening spectacle". Sigh. The 300 durnham meal consisted of bread and a mezze of a yummy cauliflower mush, aubergines, green beans, chopped onions and tomatoes, boiled potatoes. Skewer kebabs followed which was preceeded by a huge tagine dish. Pugeon pie in super fine filo pastry and icing sugar was dessert and was very tasty. Oranges, macaroons and mint tea finished it off. Whilst we were stuffing our faces we were subjected to belly dancing, a magician, local dancers and drummers. 

After the spectacle I joined others and went to the nightclub which is part of the hotel. The customers were in their twenties wearing heavy winter coats and sunglasses, holding alight cigarettes and jutting their heads like angry chickens in time to the music "I wanna be your sex save". Yeah baby yeah. "2 diet cokes please". "oh, no diet cokes? 2 sprite? No sprite? Oh, 2 full fat cokes please" Sugar Rush part II! We sat dawn amidst the tables of headbanging chickens. One of our party pulled out her well travelled travel scrabble and we were away much to the amusement to the locals. Brows furrowed and tiles selected we ended up having a really good game. Just past midnight we called it a night and returned to our warm rooms with 2 blankets - heaven. Let's hope I have hot water in the morning.

Beautiful tile work within a Mosque

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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Homemade Pineapple Sage Face Mask

Pineapple Sage Face Mask - suitable for all skin types

Benefits of Homemade Pineapple Sage Face Mask: calms and hydrates skin, removes dead cells

How long should I leave my face mask on for?

Masks should stay on for 10-15 minutes. I love washing masks off with a steaming hot washcloth which opens the pores. Run the washcloth under hot water, squeeze out the excess water and then press to your face for a full minute. Then, gently wash off the mask in a circular motion. Make sure you use a good toner to seal the pores properly to minimise the amount of dirt and pollution getting in.
Sage Leaves 

Pineapple Sage Face Mask Ingredients

1/2 cup boiling water

1 tbsp fresh pineapple sage leaves (or any type of sage)

3 tbsp oatmeal

2 tbsp honey

1 egg white

Pineapple Sage Face Mask Instructions

1. Pour the water over the sage leaves and allow to cool completely.

2. Strain and add the sage liquid to the oatmeal, honey, and egg white.

3. Mix until smooth and creamy. Spread the mixture on clean skin and let sit for 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Rinse well with warm water and pat your skin dry.

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London Underground - Victoria Line

For many of us Londoners the tube is something which needs to be endured rather than enjoyed. Big improvements have been made to the Victoria line with new bigger and more comfortable trains with wider aisles and doors, and higher ceilings.

Victoria Line History

Funding for a deep-level “Route C” line, better known as the Victoria line, was approved back in 1955. The grand opening of the Victoria line, or “London’s Pride”, was on 7 March 1969. Queen Elizabeth II was the first reigning monarch to take the Tube, which was the inaugural ride on the Victoria line from Green Park.

Train Improvements

The new trains have dedicated spaces for wheelchairs and security features like CCTV in every carriage with push-button emergency alarms connecting directly to the driver. Engineering minds may be interested to know that the new trains are equipped with regenerative braking technology, which means energy is returned to the rails to be used by other trains, rather than adding to heat in the tunnels.
Service Improvements

We are all familiar with the "signal error" messages on the tube. A new state of the art signalling system has been installed for the Victoria line meaning new trains can run more quickly and closer together providing more capacity on the line. The Victoria line, as of Jan 2013, can run up to 33 trains an hour - so trains are less than two minutes apart at peak times. This is the highest ever frequency on any London Underground line. 

The Victoria line can now carry about 10,000 more passengers an hour overall. The Victoria line can reach speeds of up to 50mph as the stations are further apart.

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Meknes to Rabat - Morocco Diary

Day 2: Train to Meknes via Rabat; sightseeing tour of Rabat
Meknes to Rabat Morocco
Departing Casablanca by train this morning we followed the coast north towards Rabat, the city that was established as the capital of their protectorate by the French in 1912 and since their independence has served as the capital of a modern Morocco. 

Rabat’s history stretches back as far as 8BC, when settlers arrived in what is now the Chellah area, a district that went on to become a prosperous Roman town, before being transformed by the Merinids into a cemetery. On arrival we will have an opportunity to explore something of the city’s historic heart, with a guided walking tour of the area around the Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, before wandering through the engaging Kasbah des Oudaias, originally a fortified town that is now infused with a distinctly Andalucian flavour. 

After taking in the sumptuous grandeur of the Royal Palace we took a train onwards to Meknes, once the heart of the Moroccan Sultanate, lying amidst the landscapes of the Oued Boufekrane River valley. ‘The Sultan loved Meknes, and he would have liked never to leave it’ once wrote a chronicler to the tyrannical Sultan Moulay Ismail. Ismail (1672- 1727) was a tireless builder, and his greatest efforts were reserved for his capital at Meknes, which at its peak, with over 20 grand gateways. 

Meknes, Morocco

Another suitcase in another hall
The lighting system for the room was rather interesting. There was a main switch by the door to turn the electricity on for the room. There were then a selection of round buttons around the room which turned various lights on and some did nothing at all. Failed in my attempt to leave the bathroom light on whilst having all other lights off.

Out of the window
Currently on a double decker train at the top. Have seen my first rainbow in Morocco as it has been raining and is a little cool. Not much else to see outside. Even the shabby villages with their faded painted walls have satellite. The large green areas are littered with boulders and look more like a deserted building site.

Trains and Banana Trees
I have never seen banana trees growing in between railway lines before. The weeds were rather lusciously tall. It was challenging to find the railway lines. As long as the trains can find the lines...

Breakfast in Morocco
A boiled egg with ice cold butter with bread rolls. Had very sweet black coffee. Olives with a sauce were available as were mini pastries. I decided against olives for breakfast and resisted temptation with the pastries. They did look a  little dry which assisted in my decision.

A morning in Rabat
We visited the state palace which is the official residence if the King of Morocco. He doesn't lie at the palace but simply visits. The palace employs 500 servants who live on the premises with their families. Schools, hospitals are all on the grounds. The king is also the head of defense so the offices are there too. 

There wasn't really much to see apart from guys in various uniforms standing around and talking. I was informed that the idea in Islam is that the buildings are simple on the outside so the poor don't know what they are missing. The buildings, however, can be decorated as the owner wishes on the inside. The green tiles reflect the colour of paradise as stated in the Qur'an. Scriptures (Reading from right to left) from the Qur'an adorn the gates of the palace and is rather beautiful.

Andalucian Gardens

Andalucian Gardens
I have never seen so many stalks before in my life. They nest near to the river to feast on  the trout. They were obviously content by the size of them, the number of juveniles and the sound they made. When my time is up for reincarnation, a stalk in Morocco seems a pretty good option. We walked through the gardens and saw allotments where a family cultivates the crops (such as beetroot) for both consumption and also to sell. You can tell the difference between shacks for the family and shacks for animals as the family will have a satellite dish on the roof.

Moroccan Mosque
We went to the second largest mosque which is actually incomplete so it really doesn't count. We looked at the soldiers on their horses. One was an Arabian stallion tall and lean and the other a burbon horse, a sound sturdy looking work horse. The soldiers wore rather interesting uniforms with red pleated trousers with bell bottoms at the end. They had a red jacket and then a long white cloak. I am sure they would have been warm. We were out in our tshirts enjoying the emerging sun rays. 

We went into the mausoleum where the king's father, his uncle and grand father are buried. The room was 2 tier. At the bottom lay the 3 sarcophagi intricately carved in white marble. The floor was black granite from Norway. The segments in the granite glistened as if reflecting the night sky. The doors were also intricately carved but this tomb in wood. As in Florence, the doors are gilded in gold leaf. The Walls to the lower section were detailed tiles. 

The edge of the lower room was decorated with a number of Moroccan flags standing up. These are to represent each Moroccan state. The Qur'an lay open on a rug in between the sarcophagi as if ready to be read. The balcony was decorated in white and gold. The double doors, larger than the lower section, were still detailed in their design. The ceiling was carved wood with gold filigree and in places bulbs had been arranged. The room had a sense of genuine rest. The soldiers seemed bored young lads who looked uncomfortable and shuffled with boredom/discomfort.  A large percentage of the population are employed by the State. 

It's amazing to think that most of work that we are seeing and admiring was actually made by white slaves. Over 1 million white slaves are known to have been captured and then taken to Morocco.  "White Gold" by Giles Milton is a fascinating book covering over hundred years of white slave history. Barbary pirates would cross the English Channel and raid mainly Cornish and Irish towns. They often would raid a town on a Sunday morning when the villagers would be at church. Men, women and children would be captured and taken to Morocco to become slaves.

Experiencing a Casbah
We headed to the well renowned Casbah which is a residential area which has a feeling of Southend Spain as it's painted all White except the lower half of the buildings, round the doors and windows in a beautiful aqua marine which is believed to repell mosquitos. The narrow winding alleys provided a very romantic atmosphere. The properties, even though a little grubby on the outside and a tad on the tiny side they are believed to be rather spectacular on the inside. Some have been turned into guest houses. This area is known to be particular with British expats.

We stopped off in a small square for a pastry and moroccan mint tea. The tea was extraordinarily sweet but still lovely and fresh. A view of the sea and the cemetery for fisherman and we walk back to the bus. There were boats on the river as water taxis ready to take people across the river to Rabat.

 On the bus and into a tourist trap of a restaurant. The herb omelette tasted of nothing as did the over cooked vegetables. The chips were a bit better and tasted at least of something - fat! A can of diet coke was 18 durnham. Omelette 45 durnham. It's not the price that I object to but the poor quality of food - was rather disappointing.

A Moroccan Medina
We had a little time before the train to Meknes so I headed into the Medina which is a huge Market set with permanent building huts with canopies at the front to display their wares. The place was a fabulous rabbit warren. The sights of sheep heads on the side and eager feral cats waiting for the opportune moment reminded me of Cairo, Egypt. The scents of spices and leather wafted round like a welcomed blanked on a frosty winter evening.

Train to Meknes 
On the train to Meknes which is a 2 hr train ride.Even though the train departed on time it was 20 mins late. We travelled first class which I suppose is standard to our standard class. It was all fine. Shared a 6 seated booth with 4 other travellers and 1 Moroccan woman who seemed obsessed with swine flu and asked us if we and our children had been vaccinated. When we replied no she seemed rather shocked and proceeded to use her antibacterial gel several times throughout the remains of the journey.
Our taxi dropped us off at the hotel and a very polite (maybe too polite) porter showed us our rooms. Turquoise bathroom suit with shell shaped toilet seat. A very extra ordinary bath which was between a short bath and a deep shower. 

Buying alcohol in Morocco
Feeling that am slightly resembling foie gras. Had a spicy harissa soup for starter and a lamb tagine with prunes for main which was divine. Had half a bottle of Moroccan red wine and we had a glass each of that. It was rather light in colour and texture and had a savoury after taste. It wasn't what I expected at 12% but was very enjoyable. It's nice to try the local wine. We had to pop into a supermarket to buy the wine. Mostly guilty looking Moroccan men in the alcohol section which was it's own little side shop separate to the rest of the supermarket.They put the bottles of booze in black carrier bags to conceal it's contents but a bottle shape is rather distinctive as is a black carrier bag if they are not used for other purposes. The supermarket could have been in France or Spain - apart from the alcohol store there wasn't anything particularly Moroccan about it. Apparently more and more Moroccans are liking and using supermarkets which is reducing the local high street trade just as it did in the UK. Are lessons not learned?

First dinner in Morocco

The restaurant was freezing cold and we sat in our jackets the whole meal. Mixed fruit cocktail for dessert and followed by some mint tea (where I asked to add my own sugar otherwise it's too sweet for my taste).

Cleanliness is next to godliness
Finally got to the room and the radiator had finally started to work (yippee) and my socks which I had left on on there, just in case it felt like working, were now toasty warm. Excellent. I managed to clamber into this blue tub thing tuned on the water and a dribble of lukewarm water was the best I could muster. I am staying at the next hotel for 2 nights. Let's hope the bathing facilities at the other hotels are better than this one. Still felt a little grubby.

Cross over the road my friend
Think I mastered the how to cross Moroccan roads today. The key is to find a space in the traffic and walking calmly across. The Moroccans seem to be genuinely warm friendly people. At least they don't speed up when they see you cross, unlike the Italians.

A little less snug than a bug in a rug
I am now in bed with 2 blankets draped over my bed. Didn't expect it to be so cold, brrr. It's not as cold as it back home though but these walls are so thin and the windows don't fit exactly that the wind just comes right into the room.

White Slaves in Morocco

Giles Milton's book White Gold is a fabulous read. It's about the one million white slaves captured by the Barbary Pirates and covers 150 years in a very easy to read manner. I would certainly recommend this read especially if you are going to Meknes as all the fine work and buildings you will see have been built by white slaves, mostly English.

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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Casablanca, Morocco - travel diary

First Impressions of Casablanca, Morocco

Day 1 in Morocco - arrived in Casablanca (January)

Had my passport and papers checked 3 times at Casablanca airport and my luggage x-rayed. No smiles - a bit like america in that sense. Lighting was kept to a minimum in the airport and many smoked even there were no smoking signs. 

Plane food
Plane food was decent enough marinated beef stew with chickpeas and cous cous.  

Chocolate creme dessert. Coffee but no milk available. 

I have been advised to wear a wedding ring to keep the men at bay. So I am wearing a cheap ring with glass for a diamond - I am not married and feel like a fraud.
Arrived at the hotel Ajiad, Casablanca. Room is simple but clean. My tripadvisor review

Casablanca Hotel Room

The streets of Casablanca
Looking out onto the streets of Casablanca it's filled with men standing around, looks like Hanley centre in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs. Only a few women about. We were advised to get a cab at night if we wanted to go out as the streets aren't particularly safe for foreigners at night.

Where's the sun?
It 16oC and raining today.  
Black combats, khaki t-shirt, black fleece and khaki head scarf. Covered up.

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Monday, 28 July 2014

Adidas Routemaster Buses in London

adidas world cup 'all or nothing' campaign

Adidas is the first brand to paint 32 entire Routemaster buses.

Why 32 Routemasters? 
One bus for each World Cup team, of course. Wasn't it obvious?! The paint job includes images and straplines from its 'all or nothing' campaign for the 2014 Fifa World Cup as part of the deal. You can see the buses on route 8 ad 38 and are due to leave our streets 24th September. To me, they resemble huge snails stuck to our London streets. 

2014 is also Transport for London's "year of the bus" celebrations, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Routemaster bus and the 100th anniversary of the first mass-produced motorbus.

I hadn't intended to shoot a picture of a bus, I really wanted to shoot One Eagle Place now in the background of the shot.

One Eagle Place

One Eagle Place, Piccadilly

One Eagle Place is in an interesting place of prime real estate between existing buildings in two Conservation Areas (Regent Street and St James’s). One Eagle Place replaces three former buildings, filling a block. The block includes a new building and façade in ceramic utilizing the sculptural and cast qualities of clay and polychromatic glazes (see photo above).

Renowned sculptor Richard Deacon was commissioned to design a cornice creating a memorable dialogue between architecture and art.

One Eagle Place, Jermyn Street, Waves

On the South side of the block on Jermyn Street there is a new building and façade of stone. Sculptor Stephen Cox has worked on a piece entitled 'waves'.

Learn more about Eric Parry's Eagle Place in the Architect's Journal

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Sunday, 27 July 2014

Henna Hand Painting in Morocco

Where does henna hand painting originate?

The use of henna for decoration in Morocco goes back to the time when the Berbers first migrated into the area; they were long settled there when the Phoenicians and the Romans invaded North Africa. No one is certain of the Berber's origins, but it is generally believed that they came from either Yemen or the area what is now Syria.

Berber henna symbols

Berber henna symbols reflect aspects of their lives connecting their art to nature. Planting, harvesting, reference of the sun, moon, earth and the stars are all included in the symbols of the Berber's early cultural traditions and are carried on even today. Such symbols are not only for decoration but also for protection from the evil eye and from the evil spirits believed to dwell in the surrounding trees and brooks. When I was having this traditional Berber design done I was told by the lady that this would bring me Baraka.

What is Baraka?

Baraka is used to deal with the darker forces at large throughout life helping to cure illnesses and protecting oneself against the evil jnoun (spirits - the source of the English word "genie") and the evil eye. Berber symbols are included in the design of everyday objects to protect the object as well as the person who uses or wears it. In my case she said this would bring me luck with a man after I answered that I had no husband. These motifs appear in all aspects of the Berber artisanal tradition, including pottery, leatherwork and textiles and all types of personal adornment. It makes sense then that Berber found many ways to adorn themselves with jewellery, tattoos and henna. It is mostly Berber women who are tattooed.

Tattoos are forbidden by Islam

Many Berber women in Morocco have found other outlets for placing their protective motifs by including them in textiles they weave and in their jewellery and henna designs. The designs that are drawn in henna on the hands and feet of a bride on the eve of her marriage are these same protective and nurturing symbols that have evolved throughout centuries of following this tradition.

Importance of where henna tattoos are placed

I also learned, when out in Morocco, that the tattoo is just as significant as the designs themselves. I was told that Berber women are often tattooed around body openings to keep the jnoun from entering the body through them. The feet are adorned with protective symbols to keep the jnoun (genie) from coming into the body through the earth.

Designs near breasts and pubic areas enhance sensuality. Designs on the back prevent infertility and treat it. Designs on ankles or hands protect the person from the evil eye as well as lending lightness and delicacy to the body.

What the symbols mean on my hands:

The symbol on the end of my left index finger is the Berber sign of freedom.

My other fingers are dressed with Snake and fish skeletons. The snake represents a holy person and also has many magical and medicinal properties. I should put that on my CV.

The triangular chessboard design on my left hand is associated with dizzy spells and celestial experiences, perhaps symbolic of religious trances. I am up for that!

The diamond symbol on my right middle finger is the Eye which is for protection against the evil eye; the cross in the middle deflects evil in four directions.

My favourite henna decoration I had when I was in Morocco was the black Berber design I had done in Essaouira. I paid c £16 for the design in the photo.

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